James W.A.R. Lloyd is an illustrator, commercial artist, and the creative force behind the beloved Treefort Music Fest held every year in Boise, Idaho.
He’s developed an iconic style that integrates storytelling throughout his work. We caught up with James to hear how he got started and learn a little bit about what makes him tick.
What’s your earliest memory of illustrating? When did you know it was what you wanted to do?
I’ve been drawing and making things forever. My earliest projects were drawing giant battles on lined notebook paper, making my own action figures out of cereal boxes, and decorating brown paper bag robot costumes. I think I may have always wanted to be an illustrator but forgot until college where I took a design class. I have an interest in design and think that it’s very important, but I’d rather spend my time doing illustration work. I think that my illustrations are very design influenced. There’s a lot of crossover, but I would rather tell stories.
Did you have any formal training in illustration?
I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts with an emphasis in Illustration from Boise State University. I also had the opportunity to attend Ghost Scout Training Camp in the summer of 2016.
How did you get involved with Treefort?
I’ve been trying to start the rumor that Treefort found me through Craigslist. Really, it was just spending whatever time I could drawing and making posters for local bands and events, which led to me meeting people and making friends in the community. Through that association, I was approached to help brand the festival. I think that the secret to finding cool projects to work on is just doing as much cool personal work as you can and putting it out there. If you work hard, good things will follow. I did make a Craigslist post though.
How do you approach rebranding Treefort each year? Do you have specific things you look to for inspiration? Are you starting from scratch or building off previous ideas?
I try to keep the feel of Treefort consistent, but the look changes a bit. 2017 has probably been the biggest deviation with the bright colors and emphasis on shapes, but the playful Treefort mood is still there. I’m not sure if the bright colors will pop up again next year. It may be a mix. Next year’s look will all sort of depend on what I thought was really working and what I think could use an update. I have to sort of create a problem for myself. That way I have something to fix.
For Treefort branding, you’d think that music would be my biggest inspiration (since it is a music festival), but there are over 400 band and musicians, so the mood and feel would be all over the map. I mainly try to find inspiration in illustration. Past years have pulled heavily from scouting imagery, but this year I’ve really pulled from fashion illustration. I think you can see it in the shapes and colors.
I have a folder on my computer’s desktop and for about 4 months I just dump in any image that I find somewhat inspiring. Then I go through all of the images and try find some sort of connection between them. I look for patterns in the images and try to mix them all together in a hand-drawn way, until I discover and pull out elements I can use for the next year. Each Treefort isn’t a complete rebrand, but since it is a new and emerging artists festival, I do think that it’s important to try and keep things fresh.
shop Fist Bump Sweatshirt
What’s your process for designing merch? Do you start with an idea of the product you want, or do you create a design and then figure out how that illustration will work on a product?
The product idea usually comes first. Some things we know will come back every year, like t-shirts and hats, so I get a bit of time to think about them, but sometimes ideas just happen at random. With the hats I like to make hand-drawn mock-ups that I use to block out shapes, colors, and logos. I draw big red arrows and make notes. It’s a fun and fast way to work. Seeing those rough diagrams become real products is really fulfilling.
How do you deal with a creative block?
I try to set deadlines and really stick to them. I just try to push through. The deadlines force me to sit down and start drawing, and every drawing started leads to something. You never finish anything until you just sit down and do it.
Do you have a favorite personal creative project?
I’ve been lucky in that that I’m able to pull a lot of my personal imagery and ideas into my commercial work, but if I had to choose it would be my “Space Masons” comic. It’s a short story (roughly 25 pages) about a man going through an existential crisis, so he joins a cosmic fraternity. I wanted it to be funny, sad, and kinda violent. It’s mostly a true story.
shop Space Masons & Other Comics
I saw that you’re selling a comic book in your personal Big Cartel shop. How did you get interested in comics?
When I was a kid, my dad brought home a stack of old comics that were all bound up with rope that he had found at a flea market. There was a Namor book, a western, some Donald Duck comics and a comic adaption of the movie Annie. Those comics weren’t the best, but I re-read them over and over. Now I’m mostly into science fiction stories, which can get pretty large in scope. I like the idea that one person could tell a story about the vast universe with just a pencil and paper.